AUBURN, Ala. — LSU’s less-than-overwhelming 12-10 victory against Auburn on Saturday night contributed to the Tigers dropping from No. 2 to No. 3 in both polls Sunday.
Pollsters’ votes determined Oregon was more deserving of being No. 2 after its 49-0 victory against then-No. 22 Arizona.
But a comparison to Oregon — like most comparisons — is unimportant right now. How LSU compares to its ranking, whether No. 2 or No. 3, doesn’t matter. How this team compares to last year’s Tigers team — which at this point was ascending in the Associated Press poll to No. 1 — doesn’t matter, either.
And how this LSU team compares to Alabama surely doesn’t matter.
The only comparison worthy of consideration is how this team compares to where it was a week earlier.
This team isn’t as good last year’s team. Not yet anyway.
This team has not performed like the No. 2 or 3 or 4 team in the country.
This team hasn’t measured up to Alabama’s performance to date, but it doesn’t have to measure itself against the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide until Nov. 3.
That’s not to put this 4-0 team down or ignore what it has accomplished. It’s just the reality, given the strength (or, more accurately the weakness) of the schedule, the spotty performance at Auburn and the ongoing issues with turnovers, penalties and inconsistency.
This is a very talented team.
This is a team that has been dominant at times.
This is a team that found a way to win on the road in a hostile environment against a fired-up team without playing its best.
This is a team that had to replace a lot of key players from last season and a few key ones since the start of preparations for this season.
This is a team with a lot of young players going through growing pains, not the least of which is quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who has mostly played well but turned the ball over four times. His primary problem has been trying to make plays with a higher degree of difficulty than is necessary for this team to be successful.
This is a team that didn’t play anyone capable of challenging it — or really getting its serious attention — until this past weekend.
It won’t be challenged this week by Towson, either.
Coach Les Miles took the glass-is-half-full approach after the game Saturday, as he should have.
The fact that the Tigers didn’t get beat — when they very easily could have — was a good thing, in and of itself. The stressful victory, the reality that a difference in one or two plays could have tilted the outcome and all the sloppiness are good things, because the Tigers were able to escape with a victory.
They get nearly all of the lessons that come up in a loss against an inferior opponent without having to deal with a loss. It can be called a wake-up call or perhaps it’s just the benefit of tangible evidence to support the notion that this team can — and will — get beat long before it ever plays Alabama if it doesn’t fix the turnovers and the penalties and the inconsistency.
There’s a trip to Florida in two weeks that represents a greater threat than the one that Auburn presented the Tigers this past weekend. There’s a home game a week later against a South Carolina team that probably would be ranked ahead of LSU if not for the prejudices supplied by preseason polls.
There’s other stuff to worry about after that, but that’s more than enough for now.
If this team is going to rival last year’s team, and prove it deserves its lofty ranking and be ready for that game the first Saturday in November, it’s going to have to do so through consistent, linear progress from week to week.
If you’re looking for something to compare the Tigers to in their next game, start with this: two turnovers and nine penalties against Auburn, five turnovers and 32 penalties in four games.